Thursday, January 5, 2012

Take the Subway to the Wizard's Sanctum

You may have heard this one: A homeless newsboy in a nameless city follows a mysterious stranger into a subway station. 


The stranger leads the boy aboard "a strange subway car, with headlights gleaming like a dragon's eyes," and decorated inside and out with weird, perhaps mystic, symbols.  The car "hurtles through the pitch-black tunnel at tremedous speed."  Their destination:


And beyond, a cavernous hall decorated with grotesque statues of the iconic failings of man.  At the end of the hall, a hierophant sits immobile on a throne, a square block of granite hanging precariously over his head by a slowly unraveling thread.


The wizard is, of course, Shazam and the Boy is Billy Batson.  Billy is about to be given the power of six mythological figures. At that point this story becomes a superhero origin, but at all times it's a fantasy story, too.  Grant Morrison (in Supergods) sums it up like this:

"the train carries Billy into a deep, dark tunnel that leads from this world to an elevated magical plane where words are superspells that change the nature of reality."

My point is bringing up Whiz Comics #2, is that I think fantasy in an urban setting ought to have a bit more of this and a bit fewer succubus streetwalkers, werewolf bikers, or angels in white Armani suits.  Not that there's anything wrong with those things--but they've gotten commonplace.  Perfunctory.

There's no reason why fantasy in a modernish setting can't be infused with weird or wonder.  We've got plenty of examples: Popeye's pet jeep, the Goon's antagonists, or in a less whimiscal vein, VanderMeer's city of Ambergris suffering under occupation by fungoid invaders. I can't be the only one that wants fantasy in the modern world to be something other than 90's World of Darkness retreads.

13 comments:

scottsz said...

Cool... just don't get on the midnight meat train!

The Angry Lurker said...

I didn't know of this at all......

Matt said...

The fantastic comic strips of the '20s and '30s are a great source of inspiration. They were fantasy before fantasy had been so rigidly defined.

Sylvaeon said...

fantastic post!
This really gets the imagination going. There is more than darkness in modern fantasy!

seaofstarsrpg said...

Agreed. We need more weirdness and wonder in urban fantasy (and fantasy in general). Vampire, werewolves and such are just so . . . common now. No mystery, no spark.

Matthew Slepin said...

Yep - played out is this Urban Fantasy of vampires and werewolves.

Little Nemo is another awesome example.

Trey said...

@scottsz - Words to live by. Literally.

@Angry Lurker - It's the origin of the character Captain Marvel who 1st appeared in the 1940s in Whiz Comics #2.

@Matt - Indeed. The hard stratification of genre's has hurt in a lot of ways.

@Sylvaeon and @seaofstarrpg- Defnitely.

@Matthew - I agree. Popeye would be another one.

Justin S. Davis said...

Have you read Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim books...?

I think they inject some of the "weird" back into Urban Fantasy.

The Grumpy Celt said...

Well, aside from the uncomfortable issue of a little boy following a stranger off into a dark place, that actually is cool and the images are striking.

Trey said...

@Justin - I read the first Sandman Slim novel, and I enjoyed it, but I found it a similar sort of angels and demons thing--though mercifully vampire and werewolf free. Maybe I need to check out the others, though.

@Grumpy Celt - Yeah, the 40s were a different time.

garrisonjames said...

This is a really wonderful origin story that avoids all the pre-packaged crap. It still resonates as something cool and original. Fantasy has gotten stale as people strive to hit the magic sweet-spot of marketing to whatever the current fad is now.

You're not alone in wanting something other than just retreads or rehashes. It's good to know that we're not alone in that desire to see/find/create something fresh. you capture the essence of something very special and wonderful with The City. Keep up the great work!

Trey said...

Thanks. We're definitely fellow travellers in wanting to see things move beyond the most overused tropes.

Needles said...

1st fantastic post! Shazam is an all time favorite of mine! Personally I think that there needs to be more of this type of element injected back into the urban fantasy world.